Gregor von Rezzori was born in Czernowitz, a onetime provincial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was later to be absorbed successively into Romania, the USSR, and the Ukraine—a town that was everywhere and nowhere, with a population of astonishing diversity. Growing up after World War I and the collapse of the empire, Rezzori lived in a twilit world suspended between the formalities of the old nineteenth-century order which had shaped his aristocratic parents and the innovations, uncertainties, and raw terror of the new century. The haunted atmosphere of this dying world is beautifully rendered in the pages of The Snows of Yesteryear.
The book is a series of portraits—amused, fond, sometimes appalling—of Rezzori’s family: his hysterical and histrionic mother, disappointed by marriage, destructively obsessed with her children’s health and breeding; his father, a flinty reactionary, whose only real love was hunting; his haughty older sister, fated to die before thirty; his earthy nursemaid, who introduced Rezzori to the power of storytelling and the inevitability of death; and a beloved governess, Bunchy. Telling their stories, Rezzori tells his own, holding his early life to the light like a crystal until it shines for us with a prismatic brilliance.
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Gregor von Rezzori (1914–1998) was born in Czernowitz (now Chernovtsy, Ukraine), Bukovina, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He later described his childhood in a family of declining fortunes as one “spent among slightly mad and dislocated personalities in a period that also was mad and dislocated and filled with unrest.’’ After studying at the University of Vienna, Rezzori moved to Bucharest and enlisted in the Romanian army. During World War II, he lived in Berlin, where he worked as a radio broadcaster and published his first novel. In West Germany after the war, he wrote for both radio and film and began publishing books at a rapid rate, including the four-volume Idiot’s Guide to German Society and Ein Hermelin in Tschernopol (to be published by NYRB Classics as Ermine). From the late 1950s on, Rezzori had parts in several French and West German films, including one directed by his friend Louis Malle. In 1967, after spending years classified as a stateless person, Rezzori settled in a fifteenth-century farmhouse outside of Florence with his wife, gallery owner Beatrice Monti. There he produced some of his best-known works, among them Death of My Brother Abel, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (published by NYRB Classics), and the memoir The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits for an Autobiography.
John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of many novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Untouchable, and Eclipse. Banville’s novel The Sea was awarded the 2005 Man Booker Prize. On occasion he writes under the pen name Benjamin Black.
Text: English, German (translation)
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